INDIA SEEN AFAR by Kathleen Raine


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 In the disappointing third volume of her autobiography (Farewell Happy Fields, 1977; The Land Unknown, 1975), the renowned English poet and scholar reflects upon the last years of her life, as viewed through the prism of India. Raine was 74 when she first visited India but she immediately felt as if she had come ``home.'' She writes both of the interior ``India of the Imagination''--``the place of every arrival, the term of every spiritual quest''--and of the exterior India, a land of ``sculptures and temples and dance and marvelous clothes and jewels and paper birds and garlands of stephanotis and marigolds offered to gods without number.'' It is the ``India of the Imagination'' that Raine treasures most, and yet when discussing spiritual matters, she is either disappointingly dense and obscure or else obvious and facile; there are very few moments of insight here. Raine also has the annoying habits of dropping names that will mean little to most readers (her descriptions of the many conferences she attends are particularly stultifying) and of coyly putting herself down (``I have never been sure that I had the right to be a poet''). Only when she turns to physical descriptions of India does her prose truly come to life. Some of her observations are resonant with beauty; they reveal a deep feeling for India, spiritual or otherwise, that eludes her elsewhere (``We were a beautiful grave little boy with a ragged turban who poured our water for us like Ganymede himself, and served the lime pickle with his fingers''). Though there are many poetic moments scattered throughout, much is sluggish and opaquely esoteric, resulting in self-absorbed work likely to appeal primarily to Raine fans.

Pub Date: Aug. 13th, 1991
ISBN: 0-8076-1268-5
Page count: 294pp
Publisher: Braziller
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1991